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By Ken Trainor
If you're looking for a Thanksgiving reading when you sit down to dinner tomorrow, you can't do better than the Thanksgiving Address of the Native American Onondaga Nation, included in Braiding Sweetgrass, a book that had a powerful impact on me — as much as any I read this year. The address is well worth reading in its entirety, but I've put together an abridged version because hungry celebrants can only entertain a certain amount of thanks-giving before thanks-digging in.
The author, Robin Wall Kimmerer, professor of Environmental Biology in the State Universities of New York (SUNY) system and a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, which once called Illinois home, writes, "Many Native peoples across the world, despite myriad cultural differences, have this in common — we are rooted in cultures of gratitude."
Upper state New York, where she now lives, is the ancestral homeland of the Onondaga Nation, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. At the Native school near her home, she writes, "The school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance, but with the Thanksgiving Address, a river of words as old as the people themselves, known more accurately in the Onondaga language as 'The Words that Come Before All Else.' This ancient order of protocol sets gratitude as the highest priority. … In this ritual, their teachers remind them that every day, 'beginning with where our feet first touch the earth, we send greetings and thanks to all members of the natural world.'"
Here is an edited version of what they recite:
When we look upon the faces around us, we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.
- We are thankful to our Mother Earth, for she gives us everything we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love and respect. Now our minds are one.
- We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst, for providing strength and nurturing life for all beings. We know its power in many forms — waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans, snow and ice. We are grateful that the waters are still here and meeting their responsibility to the rest of Creation. Now our minds are one.
- With one mind, we honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden, especially the Three Sisters [corn, beans and squash] who feed the people with such abundance. Since the beginning of time, grains, vegetables, beans and fruit have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them as well. We gather together in our minds all the plant foods and send them a greeting and thanks. Now our minds are one.
- Now we turn to the Medicine Herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are so happy that there are still among us those special few who remember how to use the plants for healing. With one mind, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect to the Medicines and the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.
- The Earth has many families of Trees who each have their own instructions and uses. Some provide shelter and shade, others fruit and beauty and many useful gifts. The Maple is the leader of the trees, to recognize its gift of sugar when the People need it most. Many peoples of the world recognize a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind we greet and thank the Tree of life. Now our minds are one.
- We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them the gift of beautiful songs. Each morning they greet the day and with their songs remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader and to watch over the world. To all the Birds, from the smallest to the largest, we send our joyful greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
- We are thankful for the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.
- We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.
- We put our minds together and give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the nighttime sky. She is the leader of women all over the world and she governs the movement of ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.
- We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them at night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing the dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered as one, we send greetings and thanks to all the Stars. Now our minds are one.
- We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring Teachers. Now our minds are one.
- We now turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
And now our minds are one.
According to Wall Kimmerer, "You can't listen to the Thanksgiving Address without feeling wealthy. And while expressing gratitude seems innocent enough, it is a revolutionary idea. In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires. Gratitude cultivates an ethic of fullness, but the economy needs emptiness. The Thanksgiving Address reminds you that you already have everything you need. Gratitude doesn't send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift rather than a commodity, subverting the foundation of the whole economy. That's good medicine for land and people alike.
At the end of the book, she issues a challenge:
"The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It's our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. … Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision, all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.
"In return for the privilege of breath."
Answer Book 2019
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